March 24, 2008

You Like iLike?

I’m playing with different music discovery social web apps.

Friends have always been a great boost when I’m looking to extend my musical horizons and I feel like I’m in a listening rut. This has especially been true at work, where I’ve often shared an office with someone willing to listen to my music some of the time and play his music some of the time. Working with people who have flexible musical tastes is a great way to expand your own.

Unfortunately for me, my current office situation does not allow music, and it’s back to headphones. Which I pretty much hate. I find it annoying, in 2008, to have my head attached to my computer via a wire. But, worse than being encumbered, I can’t rely on my co-workers to be DJs.

I hope that social music discovery web apps will fill that gap.

I’ve been on for a while, but have only visited it infrequently. I could never really get my head around the purpose of it, and I felt the website was a bit unfocused — unlike the more straightforward iLike. I installed their “Scrobbler’ software which is supposed to detect what you’re listening to in iTunes and help keep track of your likes and dislikes. But I was immediately turned off when I couldn’t manually define my likes. I went back a few times and never felt like it was more trouble than it was worth. I uninstalled the software. I know people who use it, but I think they’ve lost me for good now.


I think iLike started out as a Facebook app. This may explain why it appears more simple and focused.

I can’t remember why I first signed up, but I immediately felt like comfortable because it throws a bunch of artists at you and asks you to either rate them “iLiked” or not. So it’s easy to go through a bunch of your likes and dislikes quickly, without even downloading anything.

Basically, this appeared to be nothing more than a database of artists where you could keep track of your preferences, compare them to your friends, and find new music by looking at what your friends are listening to.

But today I’ve noticed there’s a bit more to it. There are free GarageBand tracks to download. And R.E.M. have released their new album online in a sort of preview mode. You can listen to the whole album (called Accelerate) on iLike. Listen to it all you want this week. They hope this will help you decide to buy it when it hits the stores. I think it’s a good strategy for an established band. I like R.E.M. and this new album seems to be basically more good R.E.M.

If you like iLike, you can download a sidebar that attaches itself to iTunes or Windows Media Player (at least, on Windows). It can keep track of music you play, and allows you to easily add tracks to the list of stuff you iLike. Also, the sidebar will make recommendations based on your listening habits. It’s fairly unobtrusive, so far.

It also points you to what appear to be free music downloads, but I’m not certain how related those are to your listening habits. They may just be randomly suggested tracks. None of these web have much depth when it comes to explaining what’s going on behind the scenes — they’re hoping you just focus on the interface they give you.


I just signed up to this today, so I still haven’t gotten much of a feel for Grooveshark. Unlike iLike, you do have to download an application to get started on Grooveshark. This makes it more like But the Grooveshark “Shark Bite” application immediately wants to upload your music folder’s catalog.

That list of songs, once uploaded, becomes your library on the Grooveshark website. You can play any of the tracks you see there and also drag them into playlists which your friends are supposed to be able to share. Shareable playlists was one of the things that enticed me about Grooveshark. I’d love to be able to share playlists with friends and have them listen to mine while I listen to theirs. I’ll get back to you on how well that works, because I barely have any friends there yet.

Even so, Groovshark immediately lets you search for songs you don’t have and you can listen to almost any song you can think of. Grooveshark assures us that it is doing this legally. You have to pay if you want to download the song to your iPod or hard drive, but it seems to let you listen freely. This would seem to mean that listening to your friends playlists is not a pipe dream.

To listen to these tracks, your friends have to run the Sharkbyte Java application, which is small and, they say, easy to uninstall. This appears to be true.

Something weird, though: Sharkbyite appears to be uploading music from my hard drive. I haven’t yet figured out exactly why it’s doing this. I believe it has to do with the ultimate goal of track and playlist sharing, but they’re short on explanations.

If you just wanted to listen to other people’s playlists, it appears you could install the app and refuse to point it at your music folder. It doesn’t seem to get upset, and will happily allow you to play tracks from albums you do not own. I was listening to an old Nine Inch Nails album earlier today.

My jury’s still out on Grooveshark, but I’m intrigued.


Pandora — from the Music Genome Project — remains the most easy site to use with no downloads and all pure listening and recommendations. If you want to forget the social aspect and focus on music, Pandora is your one stop shop. You don’t even need an account to start listening.

The last time I was using Pandora, there was no social aspect. But now it seems they’ve added the ability to scan your address book and connect to your friends. So, you can music-stalk your friends for new music. This is great for a music stalker, such as myself, who is hungry for suggestions.

This is part of my problem — there is too much music I like. Yet I am always looking for something new, and I get bored easily. Pandora is a good antidote for that.

Want to help?

Let me know what music apps you’re using, how you find new music, and what you think of the above services.

If you’re interested in being part of my network on any of these sites, here are some ways to find me:

Help a music-lover out.

Posted by James at March 24, 2008 9:12 PM
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I like Pandora, but I find it gets way too repetitive. I listen to it at the studio and I generally seem to hear the same songs every single time. If I listen to it all day I'll hear repeats. That's not good. And yes, I'm aware I can go in and mark a particular song "don't play this for a month", but I shouldn't have to. I should be able to set it up to not play the same song more than once in 24 hours.

I've had the audioscrobbler installed for a few years, but rarely actually visit I do like the theory behind it - that by tracking what everyone listens to it can (hopefully) figure out that people who like Band X also like Band Y. If you listen to a lot of Band X, you should like Band Y. Unfortunately, the few times I visit it never really tells me anything I don't know. It never recommends some new bands I've never heard of that I'm into.

The problem with all of these sites is they all want to become the place where teenagers spend all of their time online. Instead of doing one thing and doing it well, they want to have blogs and photo sharing and tagging friend networks and whatever other web 2.0 trend comes along. If just concentrated on the whole scrobbling and music recommendations they might be able to make the site a lot more useful.

Posted by: David Grenier at March 25, 2008 1:17 PM

OK, I don't use any of these since I can't at work and don't spenmd much time on the computer at home. I currently have xm in my car and that's how I listen to and find most music (or on cd for stuff I know I like). As far as finding new music goes I tend to just run across it on the xm or on regular radio. Stuff that I've been into lately? be honest haven't listened to much new stuff. I've been listening to a lot of Fred on xm which is mostly 80's 90s alternative music combined with old stand bys on cd. the last "new" artist i really found and liked was KT Tunstall who is hardly new anymore but I love all the stuff she's done. I tried Cat Power thinking she'd be similar but was dissapointed (on the other hand, older Michelle Shocked is great, new stuff since she'd found god, eh).

Now I know you like celtic music so I can tell you that I love Lunasa, the Tannahill Weavers and Danu and can also recommend Solas and Altan.

I also know you at least have dabbled in jazz so I'd say start with the standards (Dizzy, Miles, Coltrane, etc.) there but some more recent artists to try would be Kendrick Oliver's big band and any thing from Christian McBride (especially Verticle Vision, a must have, love the 1st track; Technicolor Nightmare). McCoy Tyner's always good and some other newer artist names to check out might be Joshua Redmond and Terrence Blanchard.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at March 25, 2008 1:39 PM

I've been a big fan of Altan for a while, and I'll check out those others BOB, thanks!

I think David is right on the "mission creep" aspect of some of these online music services. Some of that is probably wanting to be the social go-to place, as he suggests. But some of it is surely driven by user suggestions. Users always want more features, and it's like Haga's Law for bureaucracies. Users only notice destructive feature creep long after the application has strayed from the path.

I just noticed that I can listen to KPIG online. Yee-haw!

Posted by: James at March 25, 2008 2:09 PM

Hey James,

I'm a developer at Grooveshark and I am really excited about your post. The other sites you mention are really good and I'm proud that our site is mentioned in the same vain.

Let me explain a bit more about Sharkbyte, Grooveshark's helper application. Sharkbyte is the application that plugs a user into our P2P network. It allows you to listen and download to music. What it does not do is upload your entire music catalogue to Grooveshark, but merely the metadata about your music so we can list it in your library. It does cache certain songs so that even if you are offline, other users or yourself, can listen to that song. If you see that Sharkbyte is taking up too much bandwidth, you can throttle it in the preferences.

I hope this answers your questions but if you have any more, feel free to send me an email.

Posted by: chanel at March 25, 2008 3:20 PM

Thanks for the info.

So far, I'm liking Grooveshark. The application is no longer uploading. I actually did play with the throttling setting, but it wasn't interfering with anything as far as I could tell.

I'm looking forward to using it for sharing playlists.

Posted by: James at March 25, 2008 4:10 PM

Happy to hear KPIG is online again. Thanks for the heads up.

Posted by: Mike at March 27, 2008 1:33 PM

I just tried something even better for discovering new music. Go to Muxtape and browse a few random collections until you find something you like.

Posted by: Mike at March 27, 2008 4:09 PM

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